Triepke steps back from Engen’s “mayor for life” statement after contradicting video

Mayoral candidate Lisa Triepke, left, debates Mayor John Engen at a recent forum. In her opening pitch, Triepke has suggested several times that she entered the race because Engen coined himself “mayor for life.” (Missoula Current)

For at least two of the last three public forums between mayoral candidates Lisa Triepke and John Engen, the issues have ranged from taxes to infrastructure.

But Triepke has also pushed the issue of term limits and made it part of her campaign pitch, suggesting she entered the race in part because Engen had coined himself “mayor for life.”

“The reason I even entertained the thought of entering this race was about six months ago, when we were told that every year John was in office, would could expect our taxes to go up,” Triepke said at a forum on Oct. 5. “And shortly after that, he indicated that he was mayor for life at a City Club luncheon. When you put those two comments together, the end is not in sight for any of us.”

Triepke repeated the opening line again this week at a forum hosted by the Missoula Downtown Association, saying:

“The reason I decided to jump into this race, or not jump in but to enter this race for mayor, was because about six months ago, we were told that every year John was in office, our taxes would raise. And shortly after that, at a City Club lunch, he announced he was mayor for life. I think when you put those two sentences together, there’s not an end in sight in what we’re trying to accomplish.”

On Wednesday, Engen’s campaign pushed back against the statement, calling it false and misleading. A video of the event supports their claim.

“Although Lisa says this is the reason she’s in the race, she’s misconstruing a joke made by a City Club panel moderator,” Engen’s campaign said Wednesday.

The statement in question, as phrased by Triepke, stems from a “State of the City” event hosted by City Club Missoula on March 3. There, Kathy Best, editor of the Missoulian, introduced the panelists, which included Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss, University of Montana President Sheila Sterns, and Engen.

In introducing Engen, Best made several jokes and suggested Engen was “mayor for life.”

“Last but not least, Missoula’s 50th mayor, and as some people say, mayor for life – I’m not – (but) he is running again,” Best said in her introduction. “One of the things I enjoyed learning from you, you had a very checkered past, doing time at the Missoulian as both a columnist and copy editor, and actually won some awards doing it.”

Roughly 20 minutes later, when it was his turn to speak, Engen addressed Best’s comment.

“With regard to the mayor-for-life thing, to some of you, I’m sure it feels that way,” Engen said. “But I hope it does not. For me, it feels like the privilege of a lifetime. Serving this community has been a joy and continues to be a joy.”

On Wednesday, Triepke said that while the statement may have been wrongly attributed to Engen, his “reaction with a nod and a laugh” led her and others to perceive the comment as his.

“Multiple people in the same audience also noted their concern for his perceived affirmation of this title,” Triepke said, adding that the mayor’s statement on taxes – made to KGVO radio in an interview – remains a concern.

“This has been repeated by myself and others multiple times, even in John’s presence, and neither he nor his staff have ever asked me to refrain from stating the same before, during or after those statements,” Triepke said.

“I believe that his nod did affirm the statement ‘mayor for life,’ but (I) will refrain from using this terminology in the future. I find it odd that he has a media individual bringing this to our attention for the first time and has never approached me or my campaign staff regarding same.”